Saturday, February 28, 2009

Edwards last words to his congregation

I was just listening to a sermon by my friend Brian Albert who pastors the Calvary Baptist Church just across town. In his sermon he recounts how Jonathan Edwards was voted out of the church he pastored for 23 years. Yes, I'm talking about THE Jonathan Edwards who preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". THE Jonathan Edwards who was used of God to help ignite the Great Awakening in the new colonies some 250 years ago. THE Jonathan Edwards who is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian. After 23 years, the church voted him out. Gotta love those congregational churches! (Sorry Brian, I couldn't resist!)
Maybe if Edwards sported a chin beard things would have turned out different?

Anyways, and more importantly, Pastor Brian briefly alluded to the last sermon Edwards preached before leaving the church thus whetting my appetite to read the whole sermon, which I just did. You can read it here. I was struck by the final words Pastor Edwards spoke to the flock he loved very much:

Christ did once commit the care of your souls to me as your minister; and you know, dear children, how I have instructed you, and warned you from time to time. You know how I have often called you together for that end, and some of you, sometimes, have seemed to be affected with what I have said to you. But I am afraid it has had no saving effect as to many of you, but that you remain still in an unconverted condition, without any real saving work wrought in your souls, convincing you thoroughly of your sin and misery, causing you to see the great evil of sin, and to mourn for it, and hate it above all things, and giving you a sense of the excellency of the Lord Jesus Christ, bringing you with all your hearts to cleave to him as your Savior, weaning your hearts from the world, and causing you to love God above all, and to delight in holiness more than in all the pleasant things of this earth. And I must now leave you in a miserable condition, having no interest in Christ, and so under the awful displeasure and anger of God, and in danger of going down to the pit of eternal misery. — Now I must bid you farewell. I must leave you in the hands of God. I can do no more for you than to pray for you. Only I desire you not to forget, but often think of the counsels and warnings I have given you, and the endeavors I have used, that your souls might be saved from everlasting destruction.

Wow. Powerful words.


William said...

That to me is a great picture of the pastor's role as a shepherd. I am guessing that he was never the headliner at a "Seeker Sensitvie Worship Seminar."

Anonymous said...

What's up with your musing about chin beards. I would rather hear you extol the virtues of cracks in windows.

the cowboy

jeff said...

Powerful words, indeed!

Why was he voted out? I'm guessing maybe people didn't want to be convicted when they went to church?

Matthew Bradley said...

Perhaps equally awe-inspiring is that this congregation then asked him to stick around until they could find his replacement!

Reepicheep said...

Jeff, Edwards was a stickler on several points. The macro issue was his insistence that a credible profession of faith in Christ must be made for a person to be a member of the church and to take communion. His church wasn't numerically large (something like 300-400) but there were regular visitors coming more to gawk at the Great "revivalist" preacher. Being a spectical of sorts frustrated Edwards as he viewed teh church as such a sacred assembly- not a tourist destination. So he cracked down on people taking communion who had not given a clear profession of faith in Christ. Some influential people in his congregation thought he was over the top on this point and a division grew between Edwards and an infuential faction of the church. In the end, and in light of their form of government, he was voted out something like 235-40 (Pastor Brian gives the exact vote count in the intro to his sermon that I link).

Charles Long said...

If I recall correctly, Edwards was also pretty insistent that in order for a profession of faith to be credible, it must be preceded by a Luther-like conversion experience. In other words, you weren't really converted in Edwards' view unless you were able to give a Damascus Road kind of "testimony." This left no room for, say, 3rd generation covenant kids who had been raised in a faithful home, had never sewn wild oats, and had never doubted their covenant status from childhood through adulthood.

Ironically, we can thank the great awakenings for, among other things, mourners' benches and congregationslist churches.

Reepicheep said...

Edwards did think a person should be able to give a clear profession of faith before being admitted to the Lord's Supper, so he wasn't Paedocommunion, that's for sure. I am unaware of him requiring some kind of damascus road testimony of the children of believers. I don't think that's an accurate depiction of his position and seems to be forcing some of the modern Federal Vision debates on Edwards context.

As far as the "Great Awakenings", the two were considerably different so I wouldn't lump together. The modern "mourners bench" are more a product of the second Great Awakening than the first, in my view.

Frontier Forest said...

I sure wished I could have heard Edwards preach that politically incorrect sermon! This kind of heavy, sin-pointing preachen’ wouldn’t go over very well from the pulpit of my former church. Kind of reminds me of our Lord’s “Woe to you sinners” sermons of Matthew 23.

Rick Calohan said...

Jonathan Edwards was the feature of the January 2009, issue of Tabletalk and his young astute mind in his book of resolutions has given me new insights in my daily walk. A link for those who do not have the book can be found here.

Charles Long said...


Actually, what I had in mind was the kind of conversionist theology that places emphasis on *adult* conversion experiences. I wasn't thinking of the paedo question at all. However, as it turns out, I was confusing John Edwards with John Wesley. Edwards moved away from emphasis on a conspicuous conversionist experience, while Wesley moved toward it. My mistake, and thank you for the correction.